Bonom reborn: meet Vincent Glowinski

Bonom reborn: meet Vincent Glowinski

(© Saskia Vanderstichele)

Renowned Brussels street artist Bonom has stepped out of anonimity. AGENDA magazine met up with… Vincent Glowinski!

Everyone in Brussels knows Bonom, or his work at least. The Parisian has lived here for several years, and has redrawn the city with his beautiful, very recognisable, (mostly) black and white murals of animals. At a crossroads in his life as an artist a while ago, he exchanged his pseudonym for his real name. In the meantime he gave some splendid colour to - among other places - the Rotonde at the Botanique and to Ultima Vez’s new studio in Molenbeek, and at the end of this year, he will present a production of his own at the same company. Meet Vincent Glowinski!

Everyone knows you as Bonom. Where did that name actually come from?
Vincent Glowinski: I had various names when I first started tagging, but that one stuck. Why is a good question. Well, "Bonom" is a contraction of "bonobo" and "homme", and I liked the combination of the animal and the human. I like its hybrid character. It was only later that I realised the name is completely appropriate: as a street artist I felt somewhere between a monkey and a human; like a kind of primeval person.

How did you start creating street art?
Glowinski: It all started as a game with friends. In secondary school – I was about 15 – I often intentionally sat at the back of the class so I could sketch in peace. There came a point when I wanted to start trying the drawings out for real. So my friends and I started looking for abandoned houses and factories. Creating something new in a wasteland like that made me feel incredibly free and adventurous. I was very interested in both the monumental and explicitly physical character of it. It’s like walking into a gigantic gym and being able to try out all kinds of machines. You see things that used to be a bedroom or a living room and you use them to create something new. That’s also where I learned to overcome obstacles, to get to places that are normally very difficult to reach.

How did you transition to the street?
Glowinski: That happened very gradually. For a while, I stopped making any graffiti at all. But the feeling – it’s difficult to describe – of momentarily disconnecting from the masses in the city... of literally rising above the social group and then leaving traces behind, gives you an enormous sense of personal freedom. It is a type of victory.

You said "rise above"… Is that also the reason so much of your work is in high places, often just under the roofs of buildings?
Glowinski: That has always attracted me, yes. Even when I was working on abandoned buildings. I’m not sure why, I never went to therapy or anything like that. (Laughs) But the fact is that when you climb up something, you see everything much better than when you’re on the ground in the middle of the action. And, of course, it’s easy to hide fast. But the most important thing is that just for a while, you disconnect from the hectic life on the ground. For a long time, I also made art on the back of huge tarpaulins hanging off scaffolding. That was a great technique because nobody sees you, but you have a great view of everything. I once tried to draw graffiti in a pot-hole, but I didn’t like it at all because I felt completely constricted. To me, the great attraction of street art lies in the fact that you disconnect from ordinary life, which relentlessly continues along its path. Look at all the graffiti along train and metro tracks; they are the side wings of society. As an ordinary citizen, you often pass and look at those places, but at the same time, they seem inaccessible. Graffiti artists love finding those nameless, faceless places.

You painted a lot of animals in Brussels: a walrus, a huge spider, a fleeing fox... Why all the creatures?
Glowinski: Partly I think it’s the result of the drawing lessons I took. We often went to the Museum of Natural Sciences, where I studied the physique and the movements of animals meticulously. When I would see a place I wanted to paint something in the city, an animal would usually pop into my head. I think it’s easier to identify with an animal than with a tree. Not that a tree is impossible. (Laughs) Animals are living beings, and as such are close to people. Afterwards, I realised that many of those animals were actually a kind of reflection of myself: an animal running away, an animal falling, an animal playing the clown, etc. Perhaps most of them say something about me in the space. Just like they reveal something about human life in general. Why are La Fontaine’s fables still so popular? Because in one way or another, they tell us something about human nature. After a few years, my images started becoming more hybrid; they started getting more human characteristics. And now I’ve realised that I like tackling human figures too.

How does it work? Is it the space or the building you notice first, and do you imagine the drawing afterwards?
Glowinski: Absolutely, the space itself provides the ideas. When my work was clandestine, I would look around constantly. Sometimes, a building would fascinate me, but I would have to wait until scaffolding was erected around it to be able to climb it. The fieldwork is always slightly different. I found many of the places thanks to nightlife: when I would go home after a few hours at a café, I would be wide awake and hungry for new places. Then it’s just a question of finding the right kind of work the place will permit. The possibilities or limitations of the architecture can be decisive.

(© Saskia Vanderstichele)

You usually made your street art at night. What was the most memorable moment?
Glowinski: It was when I was making the portrait of my father on a high wall opposite Recyclart. I was six floors up, and a friend of mine was helping to hold the ropes on the roof. (Laughs bashfully) As I was hanging there, I could see all these lit-up windows and people walking around their apartments. It felt very strange, as though I was invading their lives. A police patrol passed on the street. And to top it all, the ropes were elastic: every move I made would literally send me bouncing all over the place. It wasn’t the easiest way to work. It really made me think: "Wow, now I’ve completely stepped out of ordinary reality!" As though I was challenging gravity. Later on, when I looked at the picture from a distance, I was surprised by its dimensions. I really felt as though I had conquered a physical, a socio-legal, and an artistic reality.

You were once arrested by the police. How did that feel?
Glowinski: The funny thing is that they didn’t catch me making street art; I was just walking down the street, on crutches even! Just before, I had broken my leg in a fall. One of the officers recognised me. I didn’t have to pay a fine, and they didn’t throw me in prison. I just had to do some volunteer work for the City’s cleaning services: I had to design a new logo for them. It was more of a symbolic punishment. I received a lot of public support during the whole thing, someone even started a Facebook group for me.

But it did change a lot for you?
Glowinski: Of course. I can’t work as Bonom anymore. They know who I am, so the magic is gone. I increasingly make murals on commission now. Like the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural Sciences, for example. And here, at Wim Vandekeybus’s new dance studios. I like this too, but it has absolutely nothing to do with the kick and the mystery of real street art.

(© Saskia Vanderstichele)

Why did you paint a wood with a mysterious woman here at Ultima Vez?
Glowinski: This type of commissioned work is very different from street art. I get as much time as I need so I can work in colour. That was practically impossible as Bonom because everything had to happen so quickly. It was generally about placing a figure within an existing space. Now I have to apply a very different logic: it’s about transforming a space into a new kind of decor. The woodland theme has been recurring regularly in my recent drawings. The wood might represent the collective, but might also be rebirth, for example.

Why is it that spraying graffiti illegal and often heavily fined?
Glowinski: Because the rules of our society state that you cannot touch other people’s property. It’s that simple. And will therefore never become legal. Of course, you have to draw a line somewhere, otherwise I could also come over and ruin your house. Excesses must be avoided to ensure society remains liveable. But I do think it’s unfortunate that people never manage to look at things on a case by case basis: there is interesting and uninteresting street art. Other than that, I would prefer not to make too many overgeneralising statements about it, except perhaps that street art – now more than ever – says something about the world in which we live.

(© Dieter Telemans)

And what is that, do you think?
Glowinski: That depends on the meaning and significance you give it. To me, one of the most important things about it is that you could interpret street art as a reaction to increasing anonymity in big cities. Leaving something behind makes you feel "unique", just for a moment. But by now, of course, there is so much graffiti and so many tags that you just disappear back into the crowd. Actually, graffiti as such is a kind of incarnation of mass human amalgamation. There are two sides to everything... But somewhere in between all its other meanings, I think graffiti can sometimes reflect human loneliness in a city…

Bonom in Brussels:

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